I was recently asked to write my story (which I will share when it's live) and of course, being me, I wrote WAY too much. But one of my favorite sections of my story was the lessons I've learned while going through this and what it's taught me about how I want to live life in general, so I thought I would share them here too. For me, for sure, but also for anyone who is curious or who they could possibly help. Quick note, I have no idea who the woman in the photo is but I liked that the blackboard was outside!
My lessons for 2022:
Don’t be a victim - I felt my worst when I didn’t understand what people were talking about and felt like I was just doing what I was told. Things started getting better for me when I learned that I could say NO. Things got even better for me when I started reading/listening to podcasts, speaking to patients, and joining support groups
Real friends are so important, fake friends not so much - When I was diagnosed, after a month or so, I decided to let people know what I was going through. I used social media to do it. What I learned was incredible. Some people really really cared and wanted to talk. Some cared and didn’t want to talk. And some that I would have expected to hear from I never did. So the lesson? Invest in the friendships that are real and that go both ways. When you are really sick, it is not the time to make other people who don’t add value feel good. Take care of yourself first. It's ok to write off those who cause you stress or were never really friends to begin with
There are people out there like you. It’s worth the effort to find them. I’ve made some new friends since all of this began. Friends with the same cancers as me, friends with other cancers, and friends who have nothing to do with cancer but really care.
No matter what life throws at you don't stop living. I have a bucket list for the first time. It was really fun to do it. I had all these ideas of things I want to do that came out when I started writing them out. Be outside more, taste more good foods, and be with people you care about. No matter what your prognosis is, you can still enjoy your life.
This is a tougher one. But regarding prognosis. I really cared when I first got diagnosed (the first week or so) and would ask about it. In fact, I woke up a bunch of nights trying to figure out if I was going, how I wanted to go, who I wanted there, where I wanted to be, etc. I am in SUCH a different place now. Now, if I need to get my shit together quickly, tell me. If you are going to tell me I have years to live, I don’t care because I don’t believe it anyway. I will beat this and be even better than I was.
Everything should be holistic. I don’t believe in one modality of anything. I believe natural treatments have a place as do chemo and western treatments. It all works together and everything does something different. I am pretty sure that no one has “cured” cancer yet, so why not try everything (obviously making sure it won’t do harm)?
DO NOT PITY ME - People don’t know how to react when you tell them you have cancer. “I’m so sorry”, “Meal trains” etc are all things that come up. I am feeling great. Just because that word (cancer) is now part of my description don’t write me off. And, under NO circumstances, do I want people writing me off. I am not writing myself off, so why should others? And I don’t pity myself at all, so I don't need pity from others. In fact, when someone asks me “how are you” I tell them that I will share but they have to promise not to say “I’m sorry”. The conversations I have when I get that promise are amazing! When you take the pity load off people, it frees them up to be real people and to look at you as a real person, not as a diagnosis
There are two parts to having cancer. Treating it and Experiencing it. DO NOT shortchange the experience piece. It's critical. Life changes, for sure. Learning how to talk to people about it, if you can work, how to view yourself, who to talk to, questions to ask, etc. are all critical to your care. The mental is as important as the physical.
What goes up is ok to go down - I used to hate being in a bad mood, feeling bad, or being sad. I would try to “fix” myself and get out of it by distraction or other methods. Guess what? Now? Now I allow myself to be sad, to be down, to not feel my best. It's okay, I am going through a lot, and feeling something other than happiness is fine. Give yourself the space and permission to feel how you feel.
Give yourself some guiding principles. I am Jewish but not religious. For Yom Kippur this year, I took a long hike in the woods near my house. I spent time thinking about what is important to me and what I want to accomplish. I came up with three guiding principles for myself that have helped me prioritize my time and volunteer efforts and how I am living my life.
I want to heal myself
I want to help others heal
I want to help others who help others heal
Those 3 guidelines have helped me a ton. I have even resigned from things that I don’t feel fit into them.
I am not sure if this post is for others or for me, but I wanted to share. File it under "burt's thoughts"!